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Korean corruption trial begins for Samsung head Jay Y. Lee

The acting head of the Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, was put on trial in South Korea on Thursday, facing allegations that he funneled money to a close friend of the country's President in order to gain influence and consolidate power.




The trial is being held at the Central District Court in Seoul, with a verdict required by the end of May, Bloomberg reported. Lee is facing a variety of charges including bribery, perjury, and embezzlement, and could potentially serve five years to life in prison, though he has two levels of appeals available to him and might conceivably be pardoned like his father once was.

At the heart of the case is a claim that Lee directed $26 million to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a close friend of President Park Geun-hye, in exchange for favors —particularly support from the National Pension Services for a 2015 merger between Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T, giving Lee more power within Samsung.

Thursday saw a contentious preliminary hearing, with prosecutors successfully objecting to a PowerPoint presentation Lee's lawyers wanted to show, arguing that the day was only supposed to be about the basics of the trial. The defense contested the legitimacy of the prosecution, noting that the special prosecutor at the proceedings was aided by regular state prosecutors.

The hearing was interrupted twice by an older woman, who guards eventually removed from the courtroom while she screamed.

The scandal surrounding Park is coming to a head, with some 30 indictments so far, and allegations against not just Samsung but some of South Korea's other big leaders and corporations. On Friday, a constitutional court will decide whether to uphold a parliamentary impeachment vote that would force Park from office and expose her to criminal charges. Protests have affected Seoul for months, and could continue even with Park's downfall.

Apple's main competition in the smartphone space, Samsung Electronics, is expected to continue on largely unaffected outside of delays in major decisions. The Galaxy S8 is due to be announced later this month, and the company has already teased plans for a Note 8, despite the disastrous outcome of the Note 7, which was plagued by battery fires.

Apple is actually highly dependent on Samsung as one its key suppliers. In February a report claimed a $4.3 billion deal for OLED screens, some of which are presumably destined for the "iPhone 8." That device is commonly expected to use a 5.8-inch OLED panel, with a small section reserved for virtual buttons, replacing the physical home button present on every iPhone since the 2007 original.